Trump and WikiLeaks: Five things to know
The revelation this week that Donald Trump Jr. corresponded with WikiLeaks during the presidential campaign has added a new wrinkle to the competing probes into Russian interference.
Legal experts say the development is likely to intensify scrutiny of Trump’s eldest son, who is already under the microscope for a controversial June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer.
Separately, a pair of senators revealed Thursday that Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had received correspondence about WikiLeaks prior to the election. They said Kushner has not yet turned over those documents to congressional investigators.
Here are five things you need to know about Russia, WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign.
WikiLeaks was implicated in U.S. intelligence community assessment
An unclassified assessment released by the U.S. intelligence community in January explicitly implicated WikiLeaks in Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election.
Specifically, intelligence officials concluded “with high confidence” that Russia gave hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta to WikiLeaks.
“Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity. Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries,” the report stated.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has repeatedly denied that Russia was the source of the hacked emails the organization released prior to the election.
Former FBI Director James Comey testified in March that Russia did not deal directly with WikiLeaks but instead used “some kind of cut-out.”
Trump associate Roger Stone has been linked to Assange
Trump adviser and longtime confidant Roger Stone has been scrutinized for his links to Assange.
Stone claimed in an interview last August that he had communicated with the WikiLeaks chief, though he later clarified it was done through an “intermediary.” WikiLeaks has denied communicating with Stone.
Stone also raised questions with several posts on Twitter last year in which he appeared to hint at email releases from WikiLeaks before they went public.
He tweeted on Aug. 21, 2016, “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary.”
In early October, Stone also sent out a series of tweets saying “@HillaryClinton is done” and expressing his “total confidence that @wikileaks and my hero Julian Assange will educate the American people soon. #LockHerUp.” Those messages came days before WikiLeaks began publishing the hacked Podesta emails on Oct. 7.
Stone testified before the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors in September as part of its investigation into Russian interference, and was later threatened with a subpoena if he refused to turn over the name of the intermediary he used to communicate with WikiLeaks. Stone’s lawyers said he complied with the request.
Head of data firm that aided Trump reached out to WikiLeaks
Last month, it was revealed that the CEO of Cambridge Analytica reached out to Assange about Clinton’s missing emails before the 2016 election.
The data mining and analysis firm, which has ties to Trump allies Stephen Bannon and Robert Mercer, received millions from the Trump campaign for its services last year.
According to the Daily Beast, Cambridge CEO Alexander Nix told a third party that he contacted Assange about helping him release Clinton’s emails that were deleted from the former secretary of State’s private server. WikiLeaks confirmed the outreach from Nix and said it was denied, but did not expand on the content of the communication.
Later, The Wall Street Journal reported that Nix reached out to Assange in June — just as Cambridge began working for Trump’s campaign, which paid the data firm $5.9 million over the course of five months.
Prior to these revelations, Cambridge had already triggered scrutiny from the House Intelligence Committee, which requested information from the company in connection with the investigation.
Trump Jr. corresponded with WikiLeaks during the campaign
Trump Jr. released a chain of private Twitter messages with WikiLeaks after The Atlantic first reported on the contacts on Monday afternoon.
In one exchange, WikiLeaks alerted Trump Jr. of the impending launch of an anti-Trump website and offered up the password to it. “Off the record I don’t know who that is but I’ll ask around,” Trump Jr. replied. “Thanks.” It is unclear whether Trump Jr. took WikiLeaks up on the offer.
Stephen Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor, told The Hill that the exchange could lead special counsel Robert Mueller to examine potential violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act — a 1986 law that makes it illegal to access a computer without authorization.
“I think the real question is whether and to what extent it exposes Trump Jr. himself to potentially criminal liability,” Vladeck said.
The full exchange was largely one-sided, with WikiLeaks sending several messages to Trump Jr. that went unreturned. The organization, for instance, proposed that he leak his father’s tax returns to WikiLeaks so the organization could publish them and “improve the perception of our impartiality.”
Trump Jr. responded a total of three times, including to an October 2016 message in which WikiLeaks asked him to “push” a story in right-wing media accusing Clinton of joking about “droning” Assange.
“Already did that earlier today,” Trump Jr. wrote. “What’s behind this Wednesday leak I keep reading about?”
Democrats have seized on the messages as evidence of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia-connected individuals.
“It’s yet another very high-level campaign person, the president’s own son, reaching out in private communication, secret communication with WikiLeaks, and they’re discussing essentially how to coordinate the disclosure of information,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said on CNN.
But Republicans say they’re not alarmed. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) called the messages “very innocuous.”
Kushner received emails about WikiLeaks before election
Kushner received emails about WikiLeaks and Russia before the election that he has not yet, as required, given them to congressional investigators.
The revelation came Thursday in a letter to Kushner’s lawyer from the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sens. Grassley and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
“There are several documents that are known to exist but were not included in your production,” the senators wrote. “For example, other parties have produced September 2016 email communications to Mr. Kushner concerning WikiLeaks, which Mr. Kushner then forwarded to another campaign official. Such documents should have been produced in response to the third request but were not.”
The Judiciary Committee is conducting its own investigation into Russian interference, in addition to the House and Senate Intelligence committees. The committee has requested documents from Kushner as well as a transcribed interview.
The committee originally requested the documents on Oct. 18 and is now demanding the complete documentation by Nov. 27.
Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, said Thursday that they provided the Judiciary Committee “with all relevant documents that had to do with Mr. Kushner’s calls, contacts or meetings with Russians during the campaign and transition, which was the request.” He said they are open to responding to additional requests.